Mali's political crisis has taken on a new dimension, as factions within the armed forces have tried to launch a countercoup against the military junta. The junta claims to have control over key sites in the capital.
Mali's military junta overran a camp housing the country's presidential guard on Tuesday, dealing a blow to a group of renegade soldiers who sought to launch a countercoup.
The junta, lead by Captain Amadou Sanogo, claimed to be in control of the state broadcaster and airport on Tuesday. Mali's presidential guard, part of a parachutist regiment called the Red Berets, had launched attacks on important sites around the capital, Bamako, on Monday.
The guard was the most loyal to former president Amadou Toumani Toure, which the junta ousted in a March 22 coup. This week's fighting apparently started when junta troops tried to arrest the head of the presidential guard, according to the Associated Press.
Residents near the presidential guard's Djicoroni camp reported heavy fighting and broke into applause when junta soldiers breached the compound.
"The camp has fallen, it is empty and the Red Berets have left," a junta officer told the news agency Reuters, asking not to be named.
At least 12 people were killed in the fighting and another 30 wounded, according to a hospital official.
"Some are military and some are civilians who must have got caught up in the fighting," Adama Traore told the Associated Press. "They were all killed by gunshot wounds in areas around where the conflict was going on."
Capt. Sanogo had called on the presidential guard soldiers to lay down their arms and turn themselves in to the junta. Sanogo claimed the countercoup had been supported by mercenaries.
"The events of yesterday were probably (caused) by mercenaries from elsewhere with backing from some paratroopers," Sanogo told state television.
In a televised statement made on Tuesday, soldiers loyal to the junta said that everyone involved in the countercoup would be tracked down and "brought before competent jurisdictions."
"Those arrested come from different origins and were supported by hidden internal forces," the soldiers said. "Some of these people have been detained by the armed forces and an in-depth investigation will take place."
The fighting between the rival military factions comes as a blow to attempts to return Mali to civilian rule. Captain Sanogo had signed a deal brokered by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in which the junta would oversee a power transition under interim President Dioncounda Traore and interim Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra.
ECOWAS, in a meeting in the Ivorian capital of Abidjan on April 27, drew up plans to deploy 3,000 troops to Mali in order to provide stability and ensure the restoration of civilian rule. Mali has lost control of the northern half of its territory, after ethnic Tuareg rebels declared independence in the aftermath of the March coup.
Hamadoun Toure, spokesman for the transitional government, urged Malians to remain hopeful.
"The prime minister and government would like to urge people to stay calm and invites them stay hopeful," Toure said on state television. "The PM would like to reassure them that he was taking all measures to restore normality."
slk/acb (AP, Reuters)